we're magan + estelle -- two girls who live miles apart, but connect daily over our love for books. we share thoughtful + honest reviews of the books we read, but enjoy talking about our crazy lives and other interests, too (style! diy! zac efron!). join us!
This past weekend, I took Susane Colasante’s new book, City Love, to my favorite park in Long Island City and read about three girls — a local and two transplants — who were beginning a new stage in their life in the Big Apple. I love hearing about people discovering the sights and sounds of the city. One of the biggest takeaway from the book is the reminder to LOOK AROUND IT and TAKE IT ALL IN. So those of you who are returning to NYC or visiting for the very first time, don’t let yourself get trapped in a conference center for too long.
Big thanks to everyone who took part in our third annual BEA Part of It series (2013 & 2014). I love hosting it, and while it’s exciting BEA will find a new home in Chicago next year, I’ll miss putting this collection together.
For those of you looking for some city recommendations while you are in town next week or sometime in the future, here’s the full rundown:
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center ( web | tweet ) Published on March 24, 2015 from St. Martin’s Press Pages: 320 Target audience: Adult Keywords: divorce, nature, new beginnings, family
Summary: A year after her divorce, Helen decides to go way out of her comfort zone — she’s trusting her irresponsible little brother with her beloved kinda mean dog and embarking on a wilderness survival course. She’s ready for a fresh start but a familiar and unexpected addition to the wilderness team in addition to all the time spent in nature, turns the trip into a different kind of adventure.
Happiness for Beginners is one of the only books where I can remember seeing almost an unanimous reaction amongst readers: they could not stop and read it in one sitting. I’m joining those ranks. Mostly. If I had just started it a little earlier, I would have finished it in only a few hours. What’s the mysterious formula for a book of this caliber?
In this case: snappy, fresh dialogue; a main character you feel invested in; an unbelievable setting.
Like Helen, I’m not much of a nature girl. I have never gone camping. If I did, it would have to be the “fake” kind with showers and toilets. It’s brave as hell for Helen to go off for three weeks with a backpack full of nothing (no shampoo), one book of her choosing (!!), and do something so out of her normal routine. When life isn’t looking great and you have no idea where to turn, there’s nothing better than shaking it up in an enormous way, right?
Most of the people participating in the wilderness course have had some experience and are in a different age bracket than Helen. She’s feeling lonely at home with her singledom and now she’s thrown in with a bunch of people who look at her like she’s the old person. (She’s only 32.) She has to work to make connections with people while attempting not to die out in the wilderness. The pressure! Even though she’s feeling weak and incapable, Helen learns to feel empowered and rediscovers her confidence — by getting to know new people, opening herself up to strangers, and getting zen with nature.
Two characters I love: Jake — her youngest brother’s best friend and a surprising revelation — and Grandma Gigi — a lady who still knows how to have fun and is beyond wise. Helen is forced to come to terms with the truths surrounding the hierarchy of her family, as well as — gasp — think of her younger brother as a real person and not just the annoying thorn in her side. It can be difficult but it’s amazing how learning our siblings are real people with lives and feelings too can give us such clarity.
An unexpected gem, I’d suggest Happiness for Beginners to any Bethany Chase or Liza Palmer fan — they make for a trifecta of smart, thoughtful women’s fiction. We need more books where we see a character facing moments of vulnerabiity and bravery in unexpected yet realistic situations. We can all find a little bit of ourselves in Helen and her story. This is a book to add to the “let’s buy for everyone you ever talked to” list and meant to have a long life on my most trusted bookshelf.
Looking back, I feel disdain for about a handful of high school memories but never about prom. Even though my boyfriend and I had just broken up and we decided to go to the dance as friends, it was still a total blast and one of my favorite memories ever. I survived self-tanner and missing the complimentary makeup appointment I won. (Truth: I got way lost. Some things never change.) I couldn’t have asked for a better date, and a better final weekend with my closest friends (in true Jersey fashion, we spent it down the shore).
To get in the spirit — my mom informed me that our high school prom is occurring this weekend (lucky ducks! It’s Memorial Day weekend!) — I’m sharing a few prom-worthy reads AND a prom-tastic Spotify playlist to get you grooving on your next walk, while you’re sitting at your desk at work, or maybe for your own personal dance party. Thanks to those of you who sent in suggestions to our Twitter account and also told us a little bit about your prom! I love taking trips down memory lane with you.
Your prom book list:
Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: A modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic, Prom & Prejudice focuses on the pressures of getting to the actual dance. It was so light and fun, and inspired me to pick up my dog-earred copy of Pride & Prejudice ASAP.
Promposal by Rhonda Helms: Magan dubbed this book “worth it”. Here’s a short blurb from her: “Promposal reads easily and was a quick, enjoyable book. The story is about two genuine, innocent characters who want things to finally work out for them.”
We Can Work It Out by Elizabeth Eulberg: What is it with Eulberg and dances?! I love it! This book might not be about prom, per say, but it is about girlfriends hanging out, making time for one another, and having so much fun.
Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas: How about getting a glimpse into one girl’s prom — and two different journeys? This book was SO much fun, and relatively low drama for a book about a big dance that gets everyone a little obsessive.
And now for some tunes:
A note: Write down the songs you remember to from prom because I guarantee 10-ish years later, you will not remember any of them. (I swear! I asked my best friends.) I even danced a lot! Second, you may notice some modern tunes mixed it. Well, these are songs we would love to dance to at prom NOW if we could. Happy listening!
If you feel like sharing, we’d love love love to hear about your prom. Did you go on a trip afterwards? Was there a theme? Did you go with a friend or was it your sweetheart? WE LOVE STORIES so feel free to tell us some.
Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy ( web | tweet ) Published by Katherine Tegen Books on April 28, 2015 Pages: 288 Target audience: Middle grade Keywords: grandparents, remarriage, cousins, new friends, popularity, parents & secrets
Summary: After Grandpa Howe and Grandma Tess get married, Lana and Cassie are invited on their road trip honeymoon. Lana is hoping to embark on a brand new friendship, but Cassie has other ideas — she’s addicted to keeping up with everyone at home. Will this new family survive this trip as the girls get to know each other and still find themselves dealing with stresses from home?
Looking back, it would have been a dream come true to be invited on a vacation with my grandparents sans parents. Grandparents are just the coolest, aren’t they? They understand us in a way that are parents don’t, right? (The spoiling part isn’t so bad either.) So Grandpa Howe and Grandma Tess inviting Lana and Cassie along for their honeymoon road trip sounds like total bliss. Grandpa Howe is Lana’s grandpa and Grandma Tess’s is Cassie’s grandma so it’s a nice way to bring their families together after their wedding. Out on the open road with dessert for breakfast and cool, artsy stops along the way (even a Broadway-themed restaurant) — what could possibly go wrong?
Well…while Lana is completely gung-ho for the trip and looking forward to spending time with her grandparents, Cassie is a bit of the opposite. She’s concerned about her status with her popular friends. If she’s not available to them, how will she remain important? Her solution is to stay permanately attached to her cell phone, much to her grandmother’s chagrin. Lana does her best to stay on Cassie’s good side but it gets tough when she feels like Cassie is constantly putting her down to make her friends look better. All the while, Lana is sure her parents are keeping something from her. She’s worried something is wrong with her mom and being in a car for so many hours on end, has her imagination soaring to new heights.
It’s true some girls are just not meant to be friends — as much as one side tries, as much as it seems like it should be the case. Lana was an old soul while Cassie was concerned about parties and makeup and boys. They aren’t exactly in the same place when the trip starts. Jealousy also becomes a factor when Cassie sees how close Grandma Tess and Lana have grown to one another. Who can blame her? For the first time, her special relationship with her grandmother doesn’t feel like it’s just meant for her, and when it seems like no one else on your family is on your team, it hurts even more.
But maybe… just maybe each of the girls provide a much needed balance for the other.
It was so refreshing to read a book based on relationships with grandparents, and, like I’ve come to expect from her, Terra Elan McVoy injected her thoughtful writing into this young, wobbly friendship — complete with spot-on observations of technology and how it can take us out of the moment and how it feels as a being young and left out of the grown up stuff. The summer always feels like a time of new beginnings, and I so enjoyed watching a new family make fantastic memories and two very different girls learn to relate to each other. I sure hope they scrapbooked about it when they got home.
P.S. If you like grandparent road trip books (and a box of tissues), be sure to add Walk Two Moons to your reading lists.
♥ Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on the lovely, important Making Prettyby Corey Ann Haydu. (Kirkus called her a ‘masterful wordsmith’ recently, and I couldn’t agree more.) I’m excited to host her on RBR as she chats about the setting of her new novel: New York City. Reading over her experience, I discovered how similar mine is. New York may be the city of dreams but it’s also a difficult place to live. It gives you the space to be independent and while that can be empowering, it can be downright lonely. After years of wanting to live here, I finally did back in 2004 and you know what I remember? Crying a lot. I didn’t stay long, and wasn’t sure I would be back. But a few years later, I made my return and I honestly believe that first experience made this one so much better. Anyway… big thanks to Corey for writing this great piece about the Big Apple and the necessary steps to making the most out of your summer here.
I moved to NYC when I was eighteen, at the end of August in 2001. I loved the city immediately — it was my dream to move here, and I felt at home in a way that was new and exciting and so, so right. A lot happened in 2001 in the city, and although it was a painful time, it was also a moment when I understood what community meant and what a place like New York has to offer if you want to make it your home.
I made it my home, and it’s taken me until Making Pretty to start writing books set here. I think it will be hard to stop now that I’ve started. For this book, I wanted to capture what it was like to be a teenager in NYC, so I set it where I was when I was teenager here. I started to become who I am now back in August 2001. I believe New York lets you do that. New York doesn’t tell you what to wear or who to love. It doesn’t tell you what to eat, but it gives you every option imaginable. It doesn’t tell you there’s only one way to be cool or artistic or smart or female or sad.
It’s not for everyone. But it was for me. And it’s for Montana. And this book is for everyone who has walked the sidewalks of NYC crying and loving that not a single person looks at you funny or asks what’s wrong. This book is for those of us that like to be alone in a huge crowd of people. New Yorkers.
A little advice on New York City, from the pages of Making Pretty:
The best people watching can be done in Washington Square Park. This is also the best place to rate best street performances.
A prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich is an important accessory and can make you less angry with your father/sister/stepmother/best friend. Easy to find at cafes and restaurants all over the city. If you’re near Union Sqaure, University news has little mini baguette sandwiches. In Brooklyn you can’t miss Frankie’s 457 for the best paninis.
Get an eyebrow piercing in Williamsburg. Get a tattoo in Williamsburg. Dye your hair pink in Williamsburg. Go to Williamsburg and wonder at the hipness.
Sit on a stoop and talk about the things that hurt. Sit on a park bench and fall in love.
Hold hands on a long walk. It doesn’t matter where you go. It’s New York. Getting lost is the point.
Eat all the cheese. Stinky’s in Brooklyn. Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village. Most wine bars. Beecher’s near Union Square.
The best bars and cafes are the ones where everything’s mismatched and a little tattered.
It’s hot in the summer. Be comfortable. Some people wear sundresses. Some people wear jean cut off shorts with tampon-looking strings hanging off them. The cool kids wear hats and scarves even though it’s boiling. It’s okay not to be a cool kid.
Notice what everyone around you is reading—on the subway, in the park, at the café. You may find the love of your life that way. You’ll at least be surprised by the unexpected choices and the ways books don’t always match up with people the way we think they’re supposed to.
Always show up with coffee. Hot coffee in the summer is a lifestyle choice that Montana and I both approve of heartily.
If you stop in the middle of the sidewalk other pedestrians will sigh and give you mean looks but forget all about it five seconds later.
You can cry on the streets and no one will notice or care. You can fight or kiss or change your life right there, in a crowd of people, and they’re rush right by you. If you are a certain kind of person, that could feel like loneliness. If you are meant to be a New Yorker, that feels a lot like joy.
♥ ♥ ♥
Thanks for stopping in, C! Best wishes on the new book!
Greetings, friends! Estelle here. A new month and another opportunity to diversify your bookshelves! I’m so psyched to share May’s DID post with you today. I’ve been an avid reader of the YA Diversity Book Club posts — made up of Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks, Kristan @ We Heart YA, Lucy @ The Reading Date, and Kristina @ Gone Pecan — where the crew discusses one diverse read a month and talks with the book’s author too. Not only is a great example of expanding your reading but this group is an example of the book blogging community at its best — not only collaborating but thoughtfully discussing together. I’m so happy to chat with them about the book club, their definitions of diversity, and, of course, their book recommendations. (Psst. Kristina was knee deep in ACOTAR research for her moderating gig a.k.a. rereading all the sexy parts so she was unable to take part this time. Hope it went well, K!)
Happy (diverse) reading!
♥ ♥ ♥
1. Hello YA Diversity Club! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today for May’s Dive Into Diversity post. One thing I was not personally expecting were so many questions about whether specific titles were “diverse” or not when we started this reading challenge. It’s always a difficult question for me to answer so I pose it to you guys: what makes a book diverse to you?
The Reading Date: We have an author questionnaire for every book we read and I liked how Elizabeth Wein answered this question: “the world is a diverse place” and she just “writes about people!” Everyone should be able to see themselves represented in books, and reading diverse books can show how similar people are despite differences.
We Heart YA: I don’t think there’s a perfect set of rules, and our group has definitely discussed whether certain books meet our criteria. I guess sometimes you just have to evaluate case by case. For example, AN EMBER FOR ASHES was one we debated. I really enjoyed the book, but it doesn’t fall within my personal preferences for a diverse read. (Generally I want a diverse book to expand my understanding of an underrepresented culture or demographic.) Nevertheless, after a brief discussion, I agreed with the group that EMBER still fits the mission of diversifying YA literature, because it was written by a woman of color!
Teen Lit Rocks: Since I volunteer with the We Need Diverse Books organization, I have sort of adopted their stance on what makes a book diverse. I think for me the book has to pass a litmus test of either having an author or a main character who identifies as being from a non-majority group. But if it’s the latter, the author better have done his/her research to authentically represent that identity/culture.
2. Can you give a little background about how you started the YA Diversity Club up? Did you know each other beforehand? How do you make it work? How do you pick what titles you are going to read?
The Reading Date: Sandie invited me to join about a year ago and I’ll let her answer how the idea came to be. We keep up-to-date with new releases that may be a good fit for our group. We noticed that we were reading a lot of contemporary so we added some fantasy to the mix for some variety. We chat via Google Hangout or Google Docs. Sometimes it’s tricky to find a time to chat since we are in different time zones. But, I love our discussions and they give me a greater appreciation and understanding of the books we read.
We Heart YA: Ditto what Lucy (the Reading Date) said.
Teen Lit Rocks: I was part of a multi-blog group that read/reviewed/featured books together on a monthly basis. After a couple of years, we started to feel overwhelmed and pulled in different directions/ interests. One of those areas for me was the desire to promote diverse books, because I’d heard from other girls in the group that they weren’t interested in the movement, they just wanted to read good books, regardless of who wrote them or what they were about.
I talked a lot about this issue with Kristina from Gone Pecan (who had also been part of the other group), and she mentioned that she just needed more recommendations for diverse books/authors. She wasn’t sure where to start. I had the idea of starting an online book club with other bloggers to help other book lovers “discover” diverse books, and once Kristina said yes, I reached out to two other bloggers I respect and admire, Lucy at the Reading Date, and Kristan at We Heart YA.
3. What’s one book from your book club reading you can’t stop recommending?
We Heart YA: For me, recommendations always depend on who’s asking and what they’re looking for. But personally, BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN is probably my fave read from our book club so far.
Teen Lit Rocks: I have really enjoyed several of the books we’ve read; my favorites are “Black Dove White Raven” by Elizabeth Wein; “My Heart and Other Black Holes” by Jasmine Warga; “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Robin Talley; and our very first pick, “Like No Other” by Una LaMarche.
4. What diverse topic would you like to see in YA that you haven’t seen yet (or seen enough of)?
The Reading Date: One way I felt isolated as a teen was from my social anxiety. It would have been helpful to read a book with a character that dealt with the same issue. (I still would like to see more books about mental illness and social anxiety!) I’m also very passionate about LGBTQIA books.
We Heart YA: I don’t think we have progressed far enough for me to identify just one weak spot… YA lit stills needs a lot more diversity of all kinds. But I’m glad we’re at least moving in the right direction!
Teen Lit Rocks: I think there’s sort of a golden age of LGBTQIA books for teens, but I think there still needs to be more progress with books about underrepresented minorities like Latinos (especially those who aren’t Mexican) and teens dealing with disabilities or size issues. And because my kids are multi-ethnic, I wish there were more books where the characters were “other” rather than just one minority.
5. Can we talk about “token” diverse characters? I saw a comment about this on Twitter recently, and while I understand and I’m sensitive to this happening, I wondering — how do you really know? What if the author doesn’t think about the character as a “token” and the reader interprets it this way? Is this up for debate or am I just thinking too much?
We Heart YA: Everything is up for debate, haha. It’s what makes conversations about diversity so hard — but so important, too.
The Reading Date: Agreed: I think it’s up for debate. I don’t think we’ve come across this in any of our books so far.
We Heart YA: For a moment I was going to disagree with Lucy (the Reading Date) but upon reflection, I agree that we haven’t seen tokenism in any of our picks. To me, tokenism is checking off a box and wanting brownie points. “Look, I put a black character in! Aren’t I great?” Whereas I think what we saw in one book was actually just an author who was enthusiastic about diversity but overly ambitious. For me, this author’s portrayals of diversity didn’t ring true enough or deep enough — but it wasn’t for lack of good intentions. And I guess that speaks to your question: How do we know? Truthfully, we don’t, really. We can only go off what’s on the page and the impression that we get. But that’s how reading works…
Teen Lit Rocks: Nothing is more disheartening than seeing your culture or identity depicted in a half-assed, phoned-in manner. It’s always obvious to me when an author didn’t get his or her facts straight or had someone “vet” her characters. For example, when an author randomly has Latino characters speaking in Spanglish or eating foods that are from a different Latino culture, I just nod my head, roll my eyes and want to throw the book against the room. Anyhow, I do think it’s up for debate, but any author attempting to write outside her experience (something I applaud) should take the extra steps necessary to make sure that voice and character is authentic and not just a stereotype.
6. Personally, what are your hopes for the emphasis on diversity in reading as of late?
The Reading Date: I want to keep the conversation going. This isn’t a fad, and there’s still a long way to go.
We Heart YA: I hope that people will understand that the emphasis on diversity isn’t some literary Affirmative Action program; it’s simply a desire to reflect the world that we already live in. A world that has always been diverse. A world that is only going to become more diverse as we progress.
Teen Lit Rocks: Ditto what Kristan said. I hope that the word doesn’t scare people away the way it seems to in certain circles. I want my friends to ask questions and be open to responses. I want my white, straight, comfortable friends (for lack of a better way to describe them) to take a chance and read about characters who aren’t anything like them, and on the flip side, I want people who don’t fit into the majority to discover books with characters that ARE like them, at least a little bit.